Hosta are easy to divide, and if you want to do so this spring, you are almost out of time. VH-studio/Shutterstock

We were walking through a garden recently when we noticed some baptisia that looked really good, with healthy leaves ready to produce gorgeous blossoms later in the year. My wife and fellow gardener, Nancy, immediately suggested that it was encroaching on its neighbors and that we should dig it up and divide it, moving half to a vacant spot on our property.

When a plant is looking its best, sometimes it’s a good idea to spread that goodness around.

Baptisia, which is hardy to Zone 3, is native to the Northeastern United States. Supposedly, it has the common name of wild or false indigo although I’ve never heard anyone use those names. Its flowers can be purple, blue, white or yellow.

It is one of my favorite perennials.

Anyway, we are getting toward the end of the best time of the year to dig, divide and transplant perennials. Done now or earlier, plants have a full season to recover and grow before the winter cold, snow and ice arrive.

If you recall last week’s column, officials from Coastal Maine Botanical Garden think they will get at least a few Siberian iris blossoms this year from a transplanting they did in late April. Siberians are among the easiest perennials to transplant, but other irises also are easily divided.


If you miss the spring, the second-best time is just after the plants drop their blossoms.

Hosta is among the easiest to dig and divide as long as you do it before they get too heavy and unwieldy. You don’t even need to dig the entire plant. Just stick a shovel or a trowel in the middle of the plant, break off part and move it. If you do it early enough in the growing season, your hostas will make full circles of leaves, but if you wait too long, the hostas may not until the following summer.

Another plant we’ve often divided is daylily, or hemerocallis if you prefer the Latin. We grow a lot of them, starting with ones we took from Nancy’s grandmother’s house. In the 1970s, we discovered Dr. Joe Barth’s daylily farm in Alna, and bought several of those. And because Nancy’s grandmother’s name was Stella, we bought Stella D’Oros when they came out. We get a few more each year.

Other plants that are easy to divide include yarrows, asters, coreopsis, bee balm, rudbeckia and sedum. We’ve done them all.

I started this column with baptisia because I happen to have dug it up and divided it recently. But when I did an online search for perennials you should not attempt to dig and divide, it turned out Baptisia is among them, at least according to some websites. If you attempt it, advises Growing Wild Nursery in North Carolina, you should “plan ahead, take your time, have a strong spade and back.”

Yes, the roots go deep and are packed closely together, but by digging around the plant first, then digging under it, lifting the root ball and then dividing the root ball (your hands are best for careful dividing of roots), we’ve found that the division goes smoothly.


Some people advise against dividing peony and candy tuft. We’ve divided peonies with no problem, so don’t believe everything you read online.

I do have one warning of my own, though. Digging and dividing plants and moving them elsewhere on your own property is fine. But because of the many pests that thrive in the soil, it’s unwise to give them to someone who lives miles away – Amynthas jumping worms and winter moth come to mind immediately. If you take the trouble to first wash all the soil from the roots of the plants to be moved, though, you should be OK. After that, you can wrap the bare roots in damp cloth for transporting or, if the plants will be moved a long way, plant them in commercial potting soil.

The pests are traveling fast enough without our help.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at:

Comments are no longer available on this story

filed under: